|Banned for life, act 2|
This is somewhat of a recap (and a bit of a repost), as my previous post got deleted somehow (moderator assured me I can post again as it wasn't me who broke any forum guidelines). I know there were other posts about being banned by Google but I honestly don't know what I did to deserve this honor. It's a bit of a disaster for me as I've been selling software online for a long time, since before Google even existed. I've been trying to learn AdWords as it was obvious all my other marketing methods are giving way to Google, but now that just disappeared.
I've been an AdWords customer for a long time now, I just never used it much. A year ago I started actively using AdWords for an upcoming project of mine, attended conference sessions on AdWords, read forums and books in order to get good at it. I ran small campaigns to learn the system and advertise a few products I know, hoping to get a better idea if I can actually make this work for my own project. These ads were mostly for software applications, nothing rogue or misleading.
Well, sometime early this summer Google just stopped sending impressions to my ads, day after day. Concerned, I emailed Google to see what was wrong with my ads. I received no response, apart from the automated we'll get back to you in 24 hours. I waited weeks, then months, convinced that I don't know the system well enough to see what I messed up. During that time I've spent countless hours learning about it, trying different ad variations and landing pages, but no ad in my account received a single impression after that day. I even tried bidding ridiculous amounts for ads just to see one impression - none came.
My natural conclusion was that my account was somehow broken, so I closed it off and started a new one in September. The new account never worked at all. Several emails to Google were again unanswered so finally, 4 weeks ago, I decided to call. At first, the phone support person was very friendly but after looking at my account I noticed a change in her voice. She said that the team was looking into my problem but to please not call again as they cannot help me over the phone. The very next day I received an email from Google thanking me for my business but informing me that I was in violation of their Terms and Conditions and that they have terminated our relationship.
I sent four very pleasant emails apologizing for what I did, and politely asking what did I do so that I can restore my good standing with Google. After receiving no response for weeks I decided today to call and see what I can do to mend this rift. The phone support person was very helpful but firm: "we don't want to do business with you, we suggest you try some of the other online marketing methods". I pointed out that there really is no viable alternative but she said she can't help me. I asked her what did I do in the first place to be banned like this and she told me that she can't say as she actually didn't have access to that information. She did tell me it was not the fact I created another account, which was the only thing I could think of. She also told me that I will never find out as it's Google's policy not to reveal reason for banning. Finally, I asked how I can get back in good graces with Google: sign something, wait 6 months, do anything to put this behind me short of reincarnating. Her answer was that there is nothing, nothing I can do about this and that the ban is permanent, indefinite, complete. I asked what happens if the ban was made in error or on bad information and she didn't have an answer for me.
One thing I just noticed last week: the timing of when my traffic stopped was just a day after I purchased software to help me analyze AdWords data. I do think this is a coincidence, but in case it's not maybe this info helps others who run into this weird scenario in the future.
This week I called again and was told the account was actually under review - I thought great, there's still a chance! A day later I got an email telling me I've been terminated, again. I am not sure what started the second review (was it my previous post?). I called again and was told that the reason my account was closed was such that it could never be opened again. So whatever the reason was, it seems it's worse than what other people reported, those who managed to get their account reopened.
The only avenues left open for me are lodging complaints with BBB and the Government's regulatory body - normally, I hate regulation in high tech-space but a company with that much control of a huge market should not treat me like a murderer without giving me some insight into why I got banned. Was my account identity stolen? I'd like to know that for other purposes as well!
The reason I took the time to vent here is to help anyone who might run into the same problems. As I said, I spent over a hundred hours over the past few months working on this problem (mostly because I didn't know I was banned), and with my professional ethics and value seriously undermined I can spend a few hundred hours more to help others avoid it, and to call attention to some not-so-fair aspects of Google's rise to the top. So please message me or comment if you agree/disagree or have a story of your own.
I wish I had something encouraging to tell you, but I don't.
I myself am (supposedly) banned from participating in AdWords under my own name; I was told specifically that as long as I used my client's names on their accounts (although my own name shows up on my MCC account) and my client's credit card, I could still run campaigns, but I can never open an account for myself or my company again.
The reason? Well this goes back far enough to the point where they WERE still giving out reasons. I had an account for my company when AdWords first started, and I wanted to give it a try. I used my own personal credit card. We didn't get a lot of results from it, so I cancelled the campaign and paid the bill as of that date.
Then shortly thereafter, I tried starting up a couple of campaigns for clients, using my normal email address and the client's credit cards. No matter what I did though, the ads wouldn't run. I called and emailed and emailed and called, and *finally* got someone who would give me an answer why none of my campaigns would even start: Google claimed that I had run a charge-back through on my credit card in the amount of (something under $50) and their policy was that anyone who ran a charge-back through was banned for life. Because my client sites were on the same server as my own (I run a hosting company) they assumed I was trying something nefarious.
Now, I've never run a charge-back through on any credit card in my life, and don't even know how to do it. Our financial guy spent hours on the phone with Google, faxing docs and proofs and statements, all to no avail. There were no additional charges on my statement past the one from the date I closed the campaign; Capital One (the credit card I was using) verified that they had not recorded any further charge attempts made by Google after the last one paid, nor was there any charge-back initiated by me on that account at any time, and they offered to put all of this in writing on their letterhead addressed to Google so as to restore my good name. But Google said no, it didn't matter. I was out. We offered to PAY the charge-back money (as I said, less than fifty bucks) even though I had no idea if it was really a legitimate charge, just to move things along for my clients - AND GOOGLE REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE PAYMENT. So what the heck do I take from that? They say I owed them money and had refused the charge, but wouldn't accept a payment of the money they said I owed them, and wouldn't take any proof from the credit card company that this never went down the way they said it did?
But as long as I was willing to use another email address, and my client's credit cards (which I was doing anyway) then they'd let me run campaigns.
That was 2002. I'm a GAP, I run probably $50k per month through AdWords now, I'm sposed to be entitled to some advanced level of support, and as far as I know, I'm still banned.
And yea - I'm still pretty ticked off about it. Sure, I can still function okay, but it's still a totally undeserved stain on MY reputation, a lot of time was wasted on this, and for what? Just to get me to change email addresses?
See, I shouldn't have started this, now I'm getting angry all over again.
This all makes me wonder about something that happened to me recently. Someone injected AdSense or AdWord code into a MySQL db of mine through an unsecure third-party application. I removed the code and contacted Google. They said that the publisher had been banned because of this hack.
I half wonder if the publisher in the code was just some innocent bystander. Of course, I have no way of knowing WHO it was, but I wonder if some competitor initiated the attack for the purpose of getting the publisher kicked out of AdSense or AdWords.
What I find most distressing about all this, is Google's total lack of communication with the alleged offenders.
I guess it is their choice who they do business with - but have they never heard of genuine errors? Surely they are not perfect, and it sounds as if sometimes it is Google who are at fault. But if they won't tell you what they think you've done, and they won't accept evidence that you haven't done it, then they must think themselves infallible or have no regard for their paying customers.
In any business that didn't command such a large share of the market, this attitude would kill the business.
It's not good business for google if people begin to fear arbitrary and irreversible closure of their accounts. They'll spend more time working on alternatives just in case that day ever arrives.
Scary stuff, but unfortunately it wont change anytime in the near future.
Google holds all the cards and they know it. They have the biggest, baddest online marketing tool(s) ever created and can choose to do business with whoever they want as long as its not based on age, race, etc...
Their stance is a financial one as it would cost them lots of $$$$ to track down, correct, and comminicate these "bans". Not saying i agree with it, but they know that, at least for now, there's another 100 people waiting to take your spot in line if you are banned.
Think of it this way, say you had a pain in the butt customer who just wouldnt leave you alone. Emails, phone calls, nothing was ever right. Yet, they kept on ordering and kept on arguing about everything. Now lets also say you had 1 million other customers. Woudl you ban this troublesome customer? Woudlnt it save you and your employees countless time. I know its not an exact analogy, but it is close. Again, i dont agree with it, and hope it never happens to me, but i can udnerstand it.
[edited by: ItsAllBallBearings at 8:08 pm (utc) on Nov. 2, 2006]
It is insanity to base a business on a single supplier that makes such arbitrary decisions. Yet there's an entire industry now that works this way. It is scary, and, IMO, it WILL lead to high-profile class-action lawsuits. Where those will go, I dunno.
Clay said: "One thing I just noticed last week: the timing of when my traffic stopped was just a day after I purchased software to help me analyze AdWords data. I do think this is a coincidence, but in case it's not maybe this info helps others who run into this weird scenario in the future."
This may not be a coincidence. I was digging around on Matt Cutts blog for some other info, and ran into a mention that Google does not allow automated interfaces into their AdWords data except through the AdWords API, logged into your AdWords account. Is it possible that the software you got was not in compliance with this?
|Is it possible that the software you got was not in compliance with this? |
It's almost certain.
When that policy was first announced, I contacted one of the companies offering such software, asking them if they were in compliance. I got a reply saying that they were "swamped with email" and probably wouldn't be able to get back to me...
They never did.
It's not right to penalize the customers of companies offering this software, though, who probably don't know they are violating Google rules by using it.
Google needs to be explicit, and name names: publish a list of software that will get you banned.
Of course, that's "everything" that attempts to optimize position. (Unless you are doing it yourself with your own software through the API.)
But they need to be explicit about it instead of dancing around with Googlisms.
It's funny, though, how Google continues to take advertising dollars from the companies that sell this software...
|software to analyze AdWords data |
I have a very hard time accepting that using software to analyze your marketing strategy or help you do market research would/should ever be a cause for being banned.
Personally I spend pennies with google in comparison with other online marketing because the conversions have always been terrible for us. Especially the content based ads.
This will potentially be the downfall of Google. Not banning people, they do it in both adwords and adsense, but their inability to communicate with people in a professional manner and explain how and why, which is leaving innocent and or good customers out in the lurch. Customers who will ultimately move elsewhere.
Google clearly does not yet understand how precious a customer is, but they will eventually learn and realize having such unfriendly policies in terms of communication when customers are suspended or banned will cost them significant sums of money in the long-run.
It certainly will not show up today or tomorrow, but it will have a cumulative effect, and it will ultimately cap their growth and provide opportunities for their comptitors.
From a business standpoint it is pretty stupid and unsophisticated. You don't have to bend over backwards or anything else, but just having a normal dialogue so people can actually defend themselves and/or understand what happened is requisite. Just banning people and then ignoring them and not offering any reason or explanation is a horrible business practice and one that will have long-term repercussions on their business model.
|I have a very hard time accepting that using software to analyze your marketing strategy or help you do market research would/should ever be a cause for being banned. |
That's not the problem - not directly.
Google does not permit "screen scraping". Nor do they permit plugging your API token into third-party software. They are quite clear about this.
Most of this software would require one or the other of these approaches in order to function.
|will ultimately cap their growth and provide opportunities for their comptitors. |
Absolutely. They have the best PPC product by far. Just a little professional courtesy and advertisers would be loyal to the grave. As it stands, even the biggest customers have to bite their nails about getting the rug pulled without any warning or explanation. Now we're all aggressively diversifying and rooting for the underdog instead of maximizing our Google spend.
Hubris can be deadly. We'll see if it is for Google.
|As it stands, even the biggest customers have to bite their nails about getting the rug pulled without any warning or explanation |
Imagine television, radio, or print advertising customers being treated this way. No publication that treated their advertisers the way Google does would survive for long.
The irony is that even the smallest newspaper classified-advertising customer is treated with more respect that large Google advertising customers. Even classified customers are given respect beyond the mere statistics that one might argue that they are.
On a certain financial discussion board, the ultimate insult when things heat up is to call somebody a "text field". Well, Google treats their customers as nothing more than a text field.
Google is currently in a unique, near-monopolistic position in a field that is still rapidly growing. That is why they can get away with treating customers the way they do.
I hope Google realizes that people remember who was nice to them - and who wasn't. For a long, long time.
netmeg, your story is frightening - it could be what got me banned too since I wouldn't know about these fictional chargebacks unless Google told me they believed I issued a chargeback (I never did of course). Thanks for venting, I'm glad to hear that I'll still be angry about this years from now! I have considered doing what you did and going under another name or having a friend do my campaigns but I feel it's like putting all my eggs into some bully's basket who's running down the street with his shoes untied. I'm afraid they'll yank my campaigns again since I violated something I didn't know about and I would have wasted all that time trying to make it work.
"Is it possible that the software you got was not in compliance with this?
It's almost certain."
Well, the software I used imported XML feed to analyze the data, which I had to manually export via AdWords interface. But, who knows if the software is also doing something behind the scenes to give me "more accurate data". From using it that didn't appear to be the case.
"This will potentially be the downfall of Google. Not banning people, they do it in both adwords and adsense, but their inability to communicate with people in a professional manner and explain how and why, which is leaving innocent and or good customers out in the lurch. Customers who will ultimately move elsewhere."
Exactly - I'm a relatively connected guy in the industry and most of my friends and partners are dumbfounded when I tell them this story. Even some close associates have trouble believing me, as the whole thing sounds so unlike the public face of Google. But they are seriously starting to rethink their reliance on the single marketing channel for 90% of their sales that could be turned off without any advance notice. As far as business risks go this is a huge one.
It's sad to see that as disgusted as many Adwords advertisers have been feeling, they are still scrambling to please Google every way they could. Unfortunately they're in a marketplace almost exclusively owned by one party. By trying to survive, to be in the game, they continue to help this bullying party secure its dominant position. They know at some point of time all these arrogance and ignorance will backfire and perhaps there will be a more level-playing field. But most can't afford to wait.
Google soud very harsh thou.I have stoped my adwords account.Cause there is always clicking on my ads no matter what...i wonder why?I think im being ripped off.